Tag Archives: Michael Gianaris

Local leaders, advocates call for public’s help to find fatal LIC hit-and-run driver


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

Kumar Ragunath was on his way to start the second day at his new job at the Holiday Inn in Long Island City, but never made it.

The 64-year-old grandfather was the victim of a fatal hit-and-run on March 7 after being struck on Northern Boulevard and 40th Road. Police found Ragunath at 10:25 p.m. unconscious and unresponsive with severe head trauma and a broken leg. He was taken to Elmhurst Hospital where he died the following day from his injuries.

Now, the Long Island City community is asking for the public’s help in finding the driver, who fled the scene in a dark colored Chevy Blazer.

“Kumar was a grandfather, he was a father, he left a family broken and grieving and that happens every 30 hours in this city,” said Juan Martinez, general counsel and legislative director of Transportation Alternatives.

Street safety advocates, elected officials and local leaders gathered Friday morning to call on the public to help track down the driver of the hit-and-run and also to emphasize the need of more speed and red light cameras on borough streets.

“We are here as a community to say never again and as we have pledged, every single time there is a serious injury and fatality to a pedestrian or cyclists we are going to speak out,” Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer said. “We are determined people, determined to make every single street safe”

Last month, four people were hit by a driver while they were waiting for a bus on Northern Boulevard and 48th Street. In December, 8-year-old Noshat Nahian was fatally struck on his way to school at a Northern Boulevard intersection in Woodside.

“We need to change the laws,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris, who introduced a bill in the Senate, which would charge drivers who continue to drive without a valid license and are in an accident that causes serious injury or death with vehicular assault. “We’re going to keep up the fight in the state legislature to make sure that New York City gets the attention it deserves, the safety it deserves.”

Van Bramer also added that Northern Boulevard is one of the deadliest roadways in Queens and he hopes it will be included as part of the first 50 thoroughfares to be focused on in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative.

“Northern Boulevard screams for inclusion in Vision Zero,” he said.

Earlier this week Borough President Melinda Katz announced that the Borough Board had approved a package of expense and capital budget priorities that it wants included in the city’s budget for Fiscal Year 2015.

One of the priorities is improving traffic and pedestrian safety in Queens through increasing the number of Slow Zones, installing more pedestrian countdown signals and speed cameras, and increasing police presence.

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Op-ed: No. 7 Train closures can’t close Long Island City


| oped@queenscourier.com

STATE SENATOR MICHAEL GIANARIS

Each year the residents of western Queens, and Long Island City in particular, wonder anxiously how many weekends the MTA will shut down the No. 7 train. In past years, the MTA did not even provide advance warning, adding insult to injury. All the prior notice in the world, however, cannot ease the pain of the 22 weekend closures we face in 2014.

Western Queens is home to the fastest-growing, most exciting neighborhoods in the five boroughs, and Long Island City continues to set the pace. People from all over flock here to live and raise their families, visit our wonderful cultural attractions, sample our world-class restaurants and enjoy our beautiful green spaces. Long Island City, and all of western Queens, deserves increased mass transit options, not ones that are being slashed.

Unfortunately, the MTA is stuck in the past, believing its mission does not extend beyond getting people to and from Manhattan during the work week. It is past time for the MTA to realize that neighborhoods like LIC have become destinations in their own right, drawing people from all over the city, particularly on weekends.

As your State Senator, I repeatedly fight the MTA to soften the blow of its seemingly endless train closures. In the past, the MTA has all but ignored the voices of our community, so it was a small step in the right direction when this year, MTA representatives took time to meet with me, my fellow elected officials and community leaders to discuss ways to mitigate the impact of these incessant closures. The MTA has committed to producing a marketing campaign, advertising all LIC has to offer, and I am working with my colleagues to bring the MTA to a public meeting to give LIC residents the opportunity to explain how much closing the No. 7 train hurts their small businesses and quality of life.

Meetings alone, however, are nowhere near enough to help our neighborhood deal with this problem; not when small business owners worry that they will not survive 2014 because the No. 7 train is closed for 22 weekends this year. The MTA must provide direct shuttle bus service from LIC to Manhattan through the Queens Midtown Tunnel, an idea it  has repeatedly ignored. The MTA must also reduce the overall amount of closures. It must provide the increased and more efficient service Long Island City and all the growing neighborhoods of western Queens deserve, and I will continue to hold the MTA’s feet to the fire until it does right by our community.

As we continue to rally together and fight the MTA for better service, be sure to tell everyone you know that Long Island City is still home to some of the most beautiful parks, delicious restaurants and creative cultural institutions in all of New York. No matter the No. 7 train schedule, Long Island City is open for business.

Senator Michael Gianaris was elected to the State Senate in 2010 with more than 81 percent  of the vote after a decade of dedicated public service in the State Assembly. 

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

No. 7 train service suspensions scheduled for 22 weekends in 2014


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

File photo

Updated 5:15 p.m.

CRISTABELLE TUMOLA AND ANGY ALTAMIRANO

Another year, another round of No. 7 train suspensions.

The subway line will not run in parts of western Queens and Manhattan for over a dozen weekends this year, starting in the end of February, according to a notice from the MTA, again upsetting residents, business owners and local politicians who are fed up with the constant disruptions.

From February through July, there will be 13 weekend suspensions. Those dates are finalized, the transit agency said. There are nine tentative weekend shutdowns scheduled for August through November.

The latest round of work, including continued installation of Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC), replacement of critical track panels and reconstruction inside the Steinway Tube under the East River, is expected to modernize, improve a fortify the Flushing No. 7 line, according to the MTA. The work will also include tunnel duct reconstruction and replacement and improvements on components damaged during Superstorm Sandy.

“We understand that these service disruptions are inconvenient to the customers who depend on the No. 7 train and we appreciate their patience,” said MTA NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco. “We have made every effort to schedule these project simultaneously to get as much work done as we can during these periods.”

All the service suspensions will be in effect from 11:45 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday, unless otherwise indicated.

There will be no service between Times Square-42nd Street and Queensboro Plaza on the following weekends: February 28 -March 3; March 7-10, 14-17, 21-24, 28-31; April 11-14; and May 2-5, 16-19.

On the following dates, in addition to no service between Times Square-42nd Street and Queensboro Plaza there will be reduced service between 74th Street-Broadway and Queensboro Plaza: May 30-June 2; June 6-8, with service resuming Sunday, June 8 morning for the Puerto Rican Day Parade; June 20-23, 27-30; and July 18-21.

The MTA has also released a tentative service disruption schedule, which is expected to be confirmed with a future update later this year.

The No. 7 Flushing-bound service will run express from Queensboro Plaza to 74th Street-Broadway, with a stop at 61st Street- Woodside on the following weekends: August 22-25; September 19-22; October 3-6, 10-13; and October 17-20, 24-27.

From November 7- 10 there will be no service between Times Square-42nd Street and Queensboro Plaza, reduced service between 74th Street-Broadway and Queensboro Plaza, and the Flushing-bound service will run express from Queensboro Plaza to 74th Street-Broadway, with a stop at 61st Street- Woodside.

From November 14-17, 21-24 there will be no service between Times Square-42nd Street and Queensboro Plaza, and the Flushing-bound service will run express from Queensboro Plaza to 74th Street-Broadway, with a stop at 61st Street-Woodside.

In addition to these changes, No. 7 train service will be suspended between Mets-Willets Point and Flushing-Main Street between 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 15 and 5 a.m. Tuesday, February 18, and between 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 22 and 5 a.m. Monday, February 24.

“We have times this vital work to minimize impacts to customers, pedestrians and vehicular traffic, and to avoid dates with high projected ridership,” said Bianco. “This is far more work than can be completed during our overnight FASTRACK program, which was designed to accommodate typical subway maintenance. Work of this scope on the No. 7 line cannot be done overnight and requires more than 48 hours of continuous access to the tube and tracks.”

During the service suspensions, riders will be kept informed through notice and printed brochures, explaining the work and service changes, posted in the subway system, according to the MTA. NYC Transit will also offer a free shuttle bus along all close No. 7 stations.

Service on the N and Q train will be increased and riders could use either train at Queensboro Plaza or the E train at Court Square, according to the MTA. Riders can also transfer to the E, F or R for service to Manhattan at the 74 Street-Broadway station.

The suspensions are nothing new for those who have suffered through them for years.

But the familiarity doesn’t mean locals are not frustrated with the suspensions that have been taking place in the area on a regular basis for well over a decade.

Business owners are tired of potential financial losses and residents are sick of longer commutes.

Last fall, No. 7 train service did not operate between the Times Square-42nd Street and Queensboro Plaza stations for five weekends.

“Unfortunately we’ve grown accustomed to the MTA screwing Long Island City,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris.

“Businesses are suffering,” he added. “It’s not just the people in LIC, it’s people who are more and more coming to Long Island City.”

Gianaris said his office has suggested numerous “reasonable” alternatives to deal with the problem, for example a shuttle bus through the Queens Midtown Tunnel, but the MTA has refused to consider them and won’t give any answers as to why it won’t.

He will be rallying Friday with local elected officials, business owners and residents to call for a change.

“We’re going to continue to try to make the point to the MTA and the new administration, and hope that the new administration would do something about [the shutdowns],” said Gianaris.

“The multi-year, $550 million capital improvement project to replace the antiquated 50- to 90-year-old signaling system on the No. 7 line with state-of-the-art CBTC technology will continue into 2017,” the MTA said in a press release.

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Op-ed: We cannot forget the Philippines


| oped@queenscourier.com

STATE SENATOR TOBY ANN STAVISKY

Just over a month ago, the strongest storm ever recorded crashed into the coast of the Philippines. Wreaking devastation over large swaths of Southeast Asia, Typhoon Haiyan has affected over 12 million people in the region and claimed thousands of lives. Even today, the death toll continues to rise. At press time, the latest count was over 6,000 casualties.

It sometimes can be difficult to fathom the magnitude of a storm’s destruction and damage from half a world away. When the victims do not share our common traditions, history or culture, we may feel only remotely affected but that does not diminish the need to help others.

I and many of my Filipino constituents have seen this growing apathy towards the storm’s aftermath, evident in waning press coverage and conversation about the disaster. Our feelings were confirmed by a recent Pew poll which found more Americans were following news about the healthcare rollout than the aftermath of Haiyan. Fundraising numbers also corroborate this—one week after the typhoon hit, Americans raised about $33 million for relief efforts compared to $300 million in the immediate wake of Haiti earthquake in 2010.

So let us be clear—the disastrous denouement of Typhoon Haiyan was total and utter destruction for millions.

New York had a very small taste of the damage that natural disasters can bring when Hurricane Sandy struck our shores just over a year ago. Our friends and family in Staten Island, the Rockaways and Coney Island watched as their cherished homes and livelihoods were swept away by the storm surge. And as New Yorkers, we responded and rallied around our neighbors.

I urge the people of Queens to see the victims of Typhoon Haiyan just as they saw and were moved to action by the victims of Hurricane Sandy. I urge you to treat them as your friends, your family, your neighbors.

Which for many residents of the 16th Senate District, is true. According to a recent Asian American Federation analysis, Filipinos make up the fourth-largest Asian group in New York City, with most Filipinos living in Queens. The 16th Senate District alone is home to more than 10,000 Filipinos who mostly live in Elmhurst and Woodside, more than any other district in the state.

Last week, my colleagues Senator Michael Gianaris, Councilmember Daniel Dromm and I joined many Queens-based Filipino groups to observe the one-month anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan at a candlelight vigil and to review fundraising progress.

I was proud to stand with them that night and I pledge to stand with them until the rebuilding effort in the Philippines is finished. I hope you will join us.

Contributions can be made to the American Red Cross specifically to support Philippine typhoon relief at www.redcross.org. Various Filipino such as organizations Gawad Kalinga are also accepting donations and are able to deliver services with very low overhead costs.

If you are unsure if a non-profit is reputable, you should check their rating on Charity Navigator.

Toby Ann Stavisky, the first woman from Queens County elected to the State Senate and the first woman to Chair the Senate Committee on Higher Education. She currently represents the 16th Senate District.

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

U.S. Senate gun control vote disappoints New York lawmakers


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Governor Cuomo's Flickr

The build-up lasted a full four months.

From the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School to the State of the Union and rallies afterward, tougher laws on gun control were debated and pored over until U.S. Senators finally voted 54-46 in favor of an amendment to strengthen background checks at gun shows and online.

However, the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013 needed 60 “aye” votes to pass.

In New York, many state officials were deeply disappointed when the news came out of Washington on Wednesday, April 17.

“I was embarrassed,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris. “Our New York delegation did terrific work, but I was embarrassed by the U.S. Senate. They couldn’t even do the simplest reform which itself was a far cry from what we really needed.”

City Councilmember Donovan Richards echoed the sentiment.

“It’s a crying shame. I would urge these individuals who voted down the bill to come visit the parents of the countless lives that were lost. Blood is on their hands.”

U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand voted in favor of the amendment.

Gianaris was one of the first state senators to push for tougher gun laws last year when he put forth legislation expanding background checks and banning assault rifles.

Background checks were eventually incorporated into the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act of 2013.

In January, the New York State Legislature passed the SAFE Act, which includes some of the toughest gun laws in the country. The bill initially limited magazine capacity to seven bullets, banned assault rifles and tightened background checks. Critics viewed it as a radical, knee-jerk reaction by Governor Andrew Cuomo to the Sandy Hook shooting while legislators were chastised for the rush to pass the bill.

Cuomo later backtracked on the magazine limit as a compromise to reach this year’s budget on time.

Federal background checks under the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013 would have been lighter than checks outlined in New York’s SAFE Act.

The New York bill allows mental health professionals to alert the state if a patient has the potential to be violent. If the threat is deemed viable, the state can revoke the patient’s gun license.

While New York is traditionally viewed as a liberal state, Gianaris said the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) lobby here is as prominent as in Washington. However, he said New Yorkers generally supported the SAFE Act despite the NRA presence.

Assemblymember Nily Rozic, a co-sponsor of the SAFE Act, traveled to the nation’s capital last month as part of the Assembly’s Black, Latino and Asian caucus to lobby for the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act.

She and Assembly colleagues from across the state pushed for a wide package of gun control bills, which she described as the first step in better nationwide gun laws.

Rozic said she was disappointed the Senate could not get the amendment to pass, but is hopeful looking forward.

“We had some great conversations,” she said. “I’d be happy to go back to D.C. and continue the fight.”

Richards, a proponent of gun buyback programs, said the goal is to take away criminals’ opportunities to get their hands on weapons.

“If we’re not doing what we can to ensure that these individuals don’t have gun access,” he said, “we’re doing a disservice to our children, to our community.”

All New York legislators, however, have not been in favor of the SAFE Act and gun legislation.

State Senator Greg Ball, who represents parts of Duchess and Putnam Counties, has actively opposed the bill, citing the loss of rights to people who legally purchased assault rifles.

Addressing the senate debate on the bill in January, Ball said making assault rifles illegal did not compensate for the help mentally ill people in the state really need. To make his point, he described a constituent with a bipolar, schizophrenic son who Ball said did not get proper state care.

“She fears for her life and the lives of her neighbors every day,” he told his fellow Senators. “And the mental health system in the state of New York has failed her repeatedly. It’s a kangaroo system where that child will be treated like a number, and a ticking time bomb to go off. And that single mom doesn’t have the support of the state, or that system, to care for that child.”

Instead, the Republican alleged the SAFE Act was a ploy to help Cuomo one day become president, and that it and would make criminals out of otherwise law-abiding gun owners.

Ball was not available for comment by press time.

In Richards’ southeast Queens district, gun safety is of utmost concern. He mentioned several individuals among his constituency who lost their lives due to gun violence, including his friend Darnell Patterson. Patterson was murdered in South Jamaica.

“The list goes on and on,” he said. “As government officials, we’re supposed to [...] do as much as we can to protect everyday citizens.”

-BY TERENCE M. CULLEN & MAGGIE HAYES

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Cuomo budget has $21 billion for Sandy relief


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Sandy, education and economic development were top priorities in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget, but despite the unexpected costs from the storm, the proposed plan eliminates a $1.3 billion gap with no new taxes or fees.

“By making difficult decisions over the past two years we have brought stability, predictability, and common sense to the state’s budget process,” said Cuomo.

“Sandy caused widespread destruction and as we begin the daunting task of rebuilding in southern Queens and the Rockaways, the governor’s proposal focuses on our needs by including $21 billion for disaster-related recovery, rebuilding and mitigation,” said Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder.

But the budget doesn’t stop at Sandy.

It increases education aid by $889 million, or an average of more than $300 per student, raises the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $8.75, and reforms the Workers’ Compensation system, saving more than $900 million.

In addition to money set aside for Sandy relief, another part of the budget is also good news for the borough.

The plan extends a film tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of 2014, for five more years.

“New York’s film tax credit has made our film industry an economic success story during an otherwise difficult economy,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris. “As the home for some of New York’s largest film production studios, western Queens has earned its reputation as Hollywood East thanks to this incentive program. I applaud Governor Cuomo for his ongoing support of the film tax credit and look forward to seeing western Queens continue to benefit from this important job-creating tool.”

On Tuesday Cuomo also announced a new website, Openbudget.ny.gov, which gives the public access to the state’s budget.

“Open Budget is bringing the people back into government by taking budget data out of government file cabinets and making it available to the public for the first time in an easy-to-access, downloadable form. This will facilitate research, analysis and innovation,” said Cuomo.

Pol hopes new legislation will make it tricky for bikini bars to get liquor licenses


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

The Courier/Photo by Alexa Altman

The top has come off for one Astoria bikini bar.

Slinking under the guise of a regular lounge, Queen of Hearts’ thinly-veiled attempt to renew its liquor license, without alerting the State Liquor Authority (SLA) that it’s gone nearly-naked, has local leaders drafting legislation to expose them and similarly shady businesses.

Initiated by Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, the Community Full Disclosure Act calls the SLA to improve its application process for obtaining and renewing liquor licenses by demanding businesses remain transparent regarding the exact activities inside the establishment – particularly adult entertainment.

The motion came after Queen of Hearts, at 26-12 Hoyt Avenue South, failed to disclose its status as a bikini bar, masquerading as an ordinary lounge.

“These businesses receive their license to sell alcohol by claiming that they operate as bars and lounges, but behind closed doors they have their employees strip down to their underwear and offer lap or poll dances to their patrons for money,” said Simotas.

Queen of Hearts filed to renew its liquor license with the SLA in September of 2012 under the name Wild Rose.

According to Simotas, institutions are required to disclose name changes and alterations to the style of venue upon reapplication, both of which the owner of the establishment, Steve Hatzilazaridis, failed to do. While forms have a category indicating “topless entertainment,” there is no selection that specifies whether a business plans to feature scantily-clad performers. To the assemblymember, two-inches of fabric do not make a difference.

“We shouldn’t be required to investigate every business that applies for a liquor license,” said Simotas. “The State liquor authority should be obtaining this information, basic information, whether or not they intend to have adult entertainment in their establishment.”

Liquor licenses are reviewed by the local community board, which gives a recommendation to the SLA. Community Board 1 District Manager Lucille Hartmann said she believes the application should not only ask more in depth questions concerning the establishment’s intentions but the SLA should also consider the recommendation of the local community board more seriously.

“It would be very beneficial to all communities if the board and our recommendation had a little more punch and had more of an impact,” said Hartmann.

According to the bar’s lawyer, Peter Stern, Hatzilazaridis failed to disclose to him that they would be adding adult entertainment.

“I didn’t know that they were refiling as a go-go bar. I didn’t know what they were doing in there,” said Stern.
The befuddled attorney, who filed the request to renew but not the original application in July of 2010, said he understood why residents in a neighborhood like Astoria would oppose the installation of an “adult establishment with any kind of erotic behavior.”

Several months ago, a similar skin-centric business, Racks at 19-26 Steinway Street, submitted an application for a liquor license. Simotas said she was perplexed as to why controversial establishments continued to pop up in a residential neighborhood.

“The only rationale is the Community Board isn’t getting the information it needs to properly scrutinize each application,” said Simotas. “The Community Board should not have to go investigate. They shouldn’t have to go knock down the door and find the owner. That information should be right up front.”

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

 

Courier hosts Power Breakfast on future of LIC’s tech boom


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Terence Cullen

Seth Pinsky, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), made clear that as business sectors based in the city move forward, technology will become more crucial.

“As we like to say at EDC: whereas in the past the technology industry was a sector; increasingly, today, the economy itself is the tech sector.”

Pinsky was a featured panelist for the “The Future of LIC: How the tech boom will affect you & your business!” — a power breakfast host by The Queens Courier in part with TD Bank — on Thursday, October 11, which gave a glimpse of what will become of the growing technology growth in Long Island City.

The breakfast played host to panelists: Carol Conslato, president of the Queens Chamber of Commerce and public affairs director for Con Edison; Andrew Kirby, president of Plaxall; Greg Pass, entrepreneurial officer for CornellNYC Tech; Jukay Hsu, founder of Coalition for Queens; Elias Roman, CEO and co-founder of Songza media; Elliot Park of Shine Electronics; and Gayle Baron, president of LIC Partnership. Featured elected officials who spoke included Congressmember Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Michael Gianaris and Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer.

Van Bramer kicked the morning off by noting that what was core to Long Island City were the arts and culture that had found a home in the region.

“Who in here believes that culture and the arts drives Long Island City,” Van Bramer asked the hundreds present and was answered with hundreds of applause.

Pinsky, head of the EDC since 2008, said it was important that the city take the lead in the ever-changing tech world. Some of the ways New York has begun to do that, he said, included the Cornell Tech Campus that will have a home on Roosevelt Island and incubators in Long Island City to boost start-ups and small businesses.

“First, the sector itself is a critical and growing sector,” Pinsky said. “We’re increasing employment, we’re seeing more economic activity, but I think that’s only half an answer. And that’s because the real reason why we’re so focused on the tech sector is that in the 21st century the tech sector will also be critical to the success of almost every other sector in our city’s economy. If our city doesn’t take a leadership in technology we’ll find it increasingly difficult to maintain our leadership position in anything else that we do.”

See photos from the event

As Cornell Tech, along with other satellite campuses across the city, begin to produce ambitious minded tech experts, they will most likely find a home in Long Island City because of its location and comparatively cheaper rent prices than Manhattan, several speakers said.

Plaxall over the last 20 years has fostered the art community that gradually grew in Long Island City, and now that community will be mixed with a technology community, said Kirby, who runs the real estate company with his cousin. The end result would be something Kirby said would be “amazing.”

“We already have the creative artists, now we can bring the creative technological people to Long Island City and to do that we need to do things that will make this an attractive area for them,” Kirby said. “I think Long Island City has the potential to be a location where we merge technology and art to create some amazing things.”

To attract the expected influx of techies, Plaxall is laying out plans for a community that could foster a merger between the arts and technology, Kirby said.

This community would be on 12 acres on the East River around what is known as the Anabel Basin. This community would include a mixed-use area of residential towers and buildings for technology companies, Kirby said. The vision for this area is to create “really a sustainable community where people can live, work and play that will attract the best and the brightest.”

Roman, the youngest speaker on the panel, said afterward that technology and culture had already become one in another and could open the doors for more and more potential.

“There’s an interesting intersection between technology and culture, where the technology becomes invisible and it’s all about the culture,” he said. “I think that’s a really exciting intersection to be at.”

Bikini bar gets fierce opposition from leaders, locals


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Aravella Simotas

Residents are worried that an uncovered bid for an Astoria bikini bar may be a scantily-clad plan to wiggle a strip club into their neighborhood.

Racks, the club located at 19-26 Steinway Street, was recently leased to a company called 8G Inc. Formerly a billiard parlor, the establishment sits just half a block from homes, several hundred feet from a park and two blocks away from a school.

8G Inc. sought to obtain a liquor license, which was voted against unanimously by Community Board 1 in early September. District Manager Lucille Hartmann attributed the board’s decision to the establishment’s inability to benefit the community. Racks’ fate will be decided by the New York State Liquor Authority, advised by recommendations made by the community.

Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, who lives three blocks from Racks, said the neighborhood is an absolutely inappropriate place for a skin-based business.

“People who live in Upper Ditmars are very unhappy and are concerned that it’s going to have a negative effect on the community,” said Simotas. “Who is going to want to move in when there’s a bikini bar half a block away?”

Simotas, whose campaign against Racks garnered support from Congressmember Joe Crowley and Senator Michael Gianaris, said she remains confident the State Liquor Authority will consider their side and heed their warning.

According to Simotas, 8G Inc. executives refused to promise that the bar would not morph into a full-blown strip club.

8G Inc. attorney Kerry Katsorhis claimed Racks would not become an adult entertainment establishment and that women would be dressed no differently than if they were at the beach.

“It’s zoned for it. It’s in a commercial area. Its neighbors consist of a truck depot and warehouses. It seems to be in a remote area. It’s not surrounded by houses. There are no houses of worship or schools. Where else can you think of,” Katsorhis asked.

Katsorhis believes many people in the community would enjoy the bikini bar.

Carolyn Scarano, a life-long resident of Upper Ditmars, fears the installment of such an institution could devalue the neighborhood. Scarano, who frequently took her now-grown children to the park near Racks, believes it may draw questionable clientele to a family-oriented area.

“I really don’t think this neighborhood calls for an establishment like that,” said Scarano. “We encourage businesses — this is not the kind of establishment we’re looking for.”

Op-Ed: Sensible gun laws would make our streets safer


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

BY SENATOR MICHAEL GIANARIS

Recent horrific acts of gun violence should lead us all to say “enough is enough.” It is long past time to improve our gun laws and make our streets safer. Almost every day, we hear about another senseless attack in New York City, where the number of shootings over the last year has increased by 12 percent, as well as mass murders resulting from gun violence across the country, highlighted by the recent shootings in Aurora, Colorado, and in Milwaukee.

While New York currently has some effective gun laws, more can be done to strengthen our laws and prevent further tragedies. That is why I introduced a package of sensible gun bills which, combined with previously introduced legislation by my colleagues, would make New York the nation’s toughest on guns, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

One of the largest loopholes in our gun laws is their inability to sufficiently address firearm sales on the illegal secondary market, which is where guns that had been previously purchased legally are re-sold, unregulated and off the books. Transactions taking place on the secondary market do not follow the legal standards and requirements mandated for purchase from licensed dealers. Data from the year 2000 shows that 20 percent of all retail handguns recovered from crimes were purchased in a multi-firearm sale. A key component in my proposals would limit gun purchases to one per month, which would help prevent gun traffickers from making bulk purchases and reselling them to people who should not have them.

Another loophole in current gun laws is the ability to purchase a firearm on the secondary market without undergoing a background check. Firearms sold privately between individuals are not regulated and therefore do not require a background check, accounting for up to 40 percent of all gun sales nationwide. It is easy to imagine a scenario where someone who knows he or she would fail a background check getting a friend to make a legal purchase only to turn around and sell the gun to him or her without scrutiny. Another one of my bills would limit the possibility of such illegal sales by requiring private firearm sales to be conducted through a licensed firearm dealer so that a background check on the prospective buyer is conducted.

My sensible gun proposals would close other loopholes relating to the ability to purchase a gun, including establishing a 10-day waiting period for the purchase of a firearm, requiring all prospective gun owners to obtain a firearm safety certificate and establishing a 10-year record retention policy for all gun and ammunition sales. Bills requiring the microstamping of ammunition for all handguns, introduced by Senator Jose Peralta, and banning assault weapons, introduced by Senator Daniel Squadron, would also better ensure our public safety and help solve crimes.

My package of bills would not only help decrease the number of gun violence attacks in New York by preventing guns from falling into the wrong hands but would also set an example for states across the country to establish stronger, more responsible regulations. These sensible measures have received a wide range of support not only among state legislators but also from the Brady Campaign, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, law enforcement officials and labor groups. The recent nationwide rash of gun violence highlights the need for stricter gun laws as too many weapons are falling into the wrong hands and causing unnecessary pain and suffering to innocent individuals and their families. I look forward to seeing this coalition of support grow as we continue to push for the passage of these important measures.

Queens MTA riders call for more service restorations


| brennison@queenscourier.com

Recently rolled out MTA restorations drew praise from many, though some advocates and politicians said Queens riders were still left in the lurch.

Following deep 2010 slashes to service in the five boroughs, the MTA announced $29 million in restorations and new service to dozens of subway lines and bus routes accounting for approximately one-third of the original cuts. Five new bus routes were also added, the first in more than a decade.

In Queens, riders of the Q24, Q27, Q30, Q36, Q42 and Q76 will see lost service renewed or improved.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how to improve both the quality and quantity of service for our riders, and I’m pleased that these investments will make a difference in the lives of our customers,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph Lhota.

Not everyone was offering the MTA a pat on the back.

“You don’t get a gold star for returning what you took in the first place,” said Michael Murphy of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group that wants all cuts restored.

The cutbacks of two years ago were due in large part to cover a budget gap of nearly $900 million. New and resumed services being phased in beginning in October will be funded through increased ridership and savings.

More than 30 bus routes were eliminated throughout the city, with an additional 100 altered during the 2010 slashes.

In Queens, the “W” train and seven buses were eliminated, along with reduced service on more than a dozen routes.

“There’s no reason for one part of Queens to be left in the dark while the rest of the city sees enhancements and restorations,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris at an Astoria press conference outside a former “W” train station.

Most of the additions were in northeast and southeast Queens.

The MTA focused on areas where network coverage was lost, ample access to transportation was not provided, and looked at opportunities to serve new and growing communities, said agency spokesperson Kevin Ortiz.

Many other demands of Queens straphangers fell on deaf ears, especially regarding express buses.

Ali Fadil, a northeast Queens resident, collected hundreds of signatures calling for the QM20 to reach lower Manhattan, eliminating the need to transfer to the subway or travel to another neighborhood.

“There are many people in our area who get on the expressway and drive and drive to Fresh Meadows for the QM7 and QM8 for service to and from lower Manhattan, turning Fresh Meadows into a commuter parking lot where it can be very hard to find parking,” he said.

In southeast Queens, riders of the QM21 called for the bus to again run every 15 minutes as it had prior to 2010. Currently, the bus runs every half hour.

“This means if a bus doesn’t show for whatever reason, one can suffer an hour-long wait in order to begin his commute. This would render him late to his destination, which would likely be work,” said Tamisha Chevis of the Rochdale Village Commuters in Action.

“We should be in a situation of talking about new services to communities that have none,” said Murphy. “Instead we’re playing defensive and we’re trying to get back stuff that was taken away.”

 

Hallets Point project to bring new life to Astoria waterfront


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Lincoln Equities Group

A deserted, seven-acre stretch of formerly industrial Astoria waterfront could soon have new life, as a New Jersey development group announced plans to build seven multifamily residential towers as soon as 2013.

Lincoln Equities Group, the company behind the estimated billion-dollar complex called the Hallets Point project, said the buildings will have 2,200 units as well as retail space, including supermarkets, drugstores and restaurants. The company says the properties will boast panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline and the East River, as well as accommodations for a water taxi stop nearby. A 100,000-square-foot public park, outfitted with pedestrian walkways and bike paths, winding along the waterfront, is also expected to be included.

“That area has long been underdeveloped,” said Lincoln Equities Group spokesperson Andrew Moesel. “We believe that a substantial residential commercial development will not only bring in new residents, but much needed resources and amenities that will be transformative for that neighborhood.”

According to Moesel, the project was first proposed in 2006 but has gone through many changes to accommodate the concerns of the community.

“We were ultimately shaping a development that would be conducive to the neighborhood and the demands of the marketplace,” he said.

Eighty percent of the units will be available at market rate with the remaining 20 percent set aside for affordable housing, as per the federal statute. While Moesel said they expect to break ground in 2013, the project could take another three to five years to be completed.

Senator Michael Gianaris is positive about the potential construction, granted the developers stick to their promises. While Gianaris added he plans to keep a watchful eye on the project, it could potentially improve the lives of hundreds of Astoria residents.

“That part of the neighborhood is on a cove, removed from the rest of the area,” said Gianaris. “They have to board a bus just to shop for groceries or take public transit just to cash a check. A lot of the conveniences of everyday New York life are not available in that area.”

Gianaris to face GOP newcomer


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Queens GOP has turned to an independent in hopes of unseating Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) Chair Michael Gianaris in the 12th District.

The borough’s Republican Party announced its unanimous endorsement of Aurelio Antonio “Tony” Arcabascio for State Senate on May 5. Arcabascio, a senior level technology professional for 25 years, is also seeking the support of the Conservative Party.

“Tony has the independence and commitment to represent this northwestern Queens district with integrity and intelligence,” said GOP Chair Phil Ragusa. “Tony as a business executive and technology professional is a ‘can do’ problem solver who can help tackle the problems our community and state are facing.”

Ragusa said Arcabascio will aim to create jobs and lower the tax burden on middle class families, seniors and small business owners. The GOP chair also accused Gianaris of focusing on raising funds for himself and the DSCC rather than constituent services and improving the economy.

“As an independent I am really honored that the Republican Party will support me for State Senate and agrees with my focus on jumpstarting the economy, creating jobs, improving schools and healthcare and reforming government to make it more transparent and accountable,” said Arcabascio, who was raised in Astoria and Jackson Heights. “I agree with Chair Ragusa that Queens residents are tired of the relentless partisanship of my opponent and will be looking for practical solutions to the challenges we face.”

Gianaris responded to the accusations by defending his efforts to improve the 12th District since being elected to the State Senate in 2010.

“I am incredibly proud of the work I have done representing western Queens in the state legislature,” Gianaris said. “From shutting down the state’s biggest polluters to supporting our local schools to promoting local businesses that create much needed jobs, together we have made a big difference improving people’s lives. I look forward to once again putting my record before the voters this November and continuing to serve my neighborhood for another term.”

Protecting ‘Good Samiritan’ businesses


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Businesses can now feel safe about being good Samaritans.

Senator Michael Gianaris announced on December 22 that he has introduced new legislation aimed at expanding upon New York’s “Good Samaritan” laws. If passed, the legislation would protect businesses and non-profits offering themselves as safe havens to citizens in distress from being held liable for damages or injuries they may incur in the process. Currently, “Good Samaritan” laws only protect individuals.

“Protecting small businesses that rush to aid someone in distress will increase the safe havens available to crime victims and make our streets safer,” said Gianaris. “By encouraging businesses to act in good faith in an emergency, this legislation creates a stronger safety net for individuals who may otherwise feel apprehensive about travelling alone or in unknown neighborhoods.”

Gianaris announced his plans to introduce the bill during an anti-crime rally in November, held to draw attention to and protest the increase in crime in western Queens. Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, who attended the rally along with the senator, co-sponsored the bill.

“Promoting public safety is a community endeavor, and organizations that step in to help the victim of a crime need to know that they have the law on their side,” said Simotas. “I am proud to sponsor Senator Gianaris’ legislation in the assembly and support small businesses and non-profits who act as ‘Good Samaritans’ to those in need.”

Parents from P.S. 234 angry over unusable school gym


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

DSC_0011w

Parents from P.S. 234 are exercising their voices in disapproval of the delay in reopening the school’s flood-ravaged gymnasium.

The elementary school, located at 30-15 29th Street in Astoria, has been without a gym since September due to damage caused by severe rain storms. The flooding produced “bumps” in the gym floor and has prevented the facility from being used thus far this semester, prompting many parents to wonder whether their children are receiving the proper physical education.

“It’s terrible,” said Fred Fowler, whose daughter Sydney is a fourth grader at P.S. 234. “The kids need the gym. Every school should have a working gym.”

Fowler said that his daughter is athletically active on the weekends, but that she “should not have to wait until then.”
Jackie Soto, who has two children attending P.S. 234 — eight-year-old Emily and 10-year-old Matthew — said her kids “miss gym” and that it is too cold to effectively exercise outside in the schoolyard.

According to Margie Feinberg, spokesperson for the Department of Education (DOE), the school has instituted extended recess time and adopted indoor exercise programs, such as Move to Improve and Activity Works, to compensate for the unavailability of the gym.

Assistant Principal Peggy Mouzakitis says the kids love the in-class programs, which combine for roughly 30 to 40 minutes of exercise, and called them a “good workout for their age.”

According to published reports, parents are claiming their children’s physical education has consisted of jumping jacks in the classrooms and movie screenings in the auditorium since the gym’s closure.

P.S. 234’s principal, Thea Pallos, assures the children are not watching films in lieu of gym, and believes Activity Works, a scientifically designed, interactive video program which aims to improve activity levels and healthy eating habits in young children, may be what the students are misidentifying as “movies.”

“The most important thing to us is that the kids are stimulated in every way,” said Pallos, who admitted physical education at the school has been more difficult without a gym. “Students and parents have been frustrated, because some children leave the building and can’t play outdoors after school. So we want to make sure we can give them those opportunities at school. There have been challenges and we are certainly trying to meet them.”

Among the challenges highlighted by Pallos was the sharing of their schoolyard, where physical education classes have sometimes been held this semester, with I.S. 235, a neighboring middle school which also utilized the out-of-order gymnasium.

Senator Michael Gianaris says Pallos and parents have contacted his office to request he get involved in facilitating the fixing of the flooded floor.

“We have a number of parents very concerned that this problem has dragged on for way too long and their kids are without the physical education they need,” said the senator. “There is no excuse for the mismanagement of this situation. At a time when kids are supposed to be getting physical education, they are busy doing activities during which they are stagnant and not moving. Due to high child obesity, we have to make sure our children are getting the exercise they need. On this issue, the DOE has failed miserably.”

According to a DOE spokesperson, the School Construction Authority (CSA) will install a temporary floor while the students are off for winter break. The floor will be in position for the start of the second semester, and a permanent floor will be put in place during the spring, after exterior drainage work is performed.